St. Paul was a Pharisee who was totally committed to the ruling group. His devoutness and devotedness set him apart in wanting to quickly rid Israel of what he saw as a new and dangerous cult called Christians. To him, they are going against the law and prophet and teaching a new way, teaching a resurrection, and even replacing the Torah. To him, they were trying to replace everything. As a result he took action by getting “warrants” to arrest these Christians and set out for Damascus. It was on that road where he met Jesus, and he was never the same again. His encounter on the way totally life changing. It is then that he learns and believes in Jesus and becomes an avid follower. Yet, in our first reading, we see the difficulty he has of being accepted. Ultimately, he was and of course took Christ’s teaching and went far and wide and spread the seeds or shoots of the vine where ever he went. .
Today that vine of our third reading remains and the fruit it bears depends on the care that we ourselves have given it. This means we must work at it. What it produce requires our attention. Christ calls every day, we respond with our attention and prayer. It’s as easy as lifting our heart or mind and doing the right thing. We are called to make those choices every day.The start of a healthy vine and a Christian is with their self. our personal relationship with God and our relationships and interactions with others determines the health of the vine and our worthiness as part of it. We all know the challenges of the relationships and are called to be Christ like in our daily life.
Jeremiah today straight out tells the people the old covenant is not working and that God is going to give them a new covenant. This new covenant will be different, there will be no temple and it will be written on the heart of each believer, not centered on a place or persons. In John today, we see Jesus say that his dieing by being lifted up for all of us is the new covenant. His life, his death, his suffering is all for the glory of God and the institution of the beginning of new covenant which we come to know as the church. But remember, our church is not a building,or a place, but within our hearts, within our communities. Jesus and his church is present when we gather in his name. The sacrifice of the new covenant was done once for all, but we continue that sacrifice when we celebrate the Eucharist. Christ’s Body and Blood becomes present for us to consume on the table we use to prepare for it. As we prepare for Easter, it good that we recall God has given us a new law, a new covenant. But it is also a responsibility. We are accountable for that law written on our hearts, a law of love, mercy and, yes, even forgiveness. It is a law Christ understands because he was like us as a human being, except for sin,and as divine he shares in God’s patience and love. So, we are called to look out for each other and to care. We must take to heart the words we say each Sunday “ Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
If we look at the middle east today, the countries there are constructs of those conflicts and the shifting sands of tribalism that was current in biblical times, even today the circle of life for these people began is family and the village and tribe. Outside of that all are strangers and looked at suspiciously. In the Bible, recall Israel as a tribe spent time in Egypt and in Babylon(Iraq today), subservient to others. The outlook on life was different and certainly even human sacrifice was not unheard of. We must not think that humanity just arrived at the 21st century and reached a measure of civility. Evil was in the world then as it is here now. While the story of Abraham and Isaac is a revelation of faith and trust and God’s care, it is also a reminder of what our ancestors were and what we have become. That hatred and murder and brutality are still in our world makes the point that much needs to be done to bring about a true revelation of God’s will for humanity to be one in his love.
Christ came into just such a world and in his one life had the call to bring God’s word to humanity. He knew what lay ahead of him and that his death was inevitable. Yet he knew God’s grace was a living and growing thing that would evolve and spread as time went on. Today’s gospel was meant certainly for his apostles, but his assurance also. None of us starts out on a task without first preparing and assuring our self of making progress. That is what Christ did and he began a way, a path, a journey for all to follow to his Father. Many in the world today follow Christ, yet we see that there certainly are those who don’t. Hatred, violence, mistrust, poverty or just being helpless all lead to the ills and evil we see today.
Our faith calls us to look around and to reach out. We need be careful of exhibiting the comfort and triumphalism of the Scribes and pharisees who thought all was well and that they had all the answers. The only one with all the answers is God and he has bestowed them as he has seen fit and revealing them as he determined we were ready for them. More than anything, this is what we see in our readings today.
In the gospel, we see Jesus leave the Synagogue and go to Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever and Jesus heals her and helps her up. She then waits on Jesus and his disciples. After sundown when the sabbath ends, the sick from the town start to come to Jesus to be healed. The following morning, Jesus arose early and set out alone in the desert. Later when his disciples caught up, he said it was time to move on. He said he had not come to heal, but to teach the word of God. So he continued on. Jesus, more than any of us was aware of a mission, of a reason he was here. Unlike ourselves, he avoided distractions and continued his journey. His life, his service, his love left much for his disciples and followers who followed and came after him to do and imitate. His journey was to give his message to the whole world and so it has been for his followers. But the world today is not perfect, nor has it been in any century. The twentieth century, the last one, was filled with war and ugliness that people could impose on their peers. Violence, and war seems to be a part of what people are. But why? People are kind and loving with their own, why not beyond the family and the boundaries of town and country. Jesus taught who was our neighbor, and ultimately our neighbor is the one who can express love and care for others. Everything we do for a neighbor, a brother or sister, we do for a loving, unifying reason. More
than anything, we are called to reach out to the Jobs of this world. Even in our time there are those filled with despair and the drudgery of daily life. They need our support and help. We should reach out and offer a hand, a word, some solace. After all, we all have a bad time a some point or another. None of us can do it alone without God’s help and those around us.